The Nation’s First Blind Governor

By Christina A. Samuels — March 12, 2008 1 min read
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Wow! Well, that was fast. With today’s resignation of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Lt. Gov. David A. Paterson now becomes not only the state’s first black governor, but the nation’s first blind governor.

The New York Times has a profile of Paterson today, which talks about his refusal to learn Braille as a child, his parents’ determination to forgo special education for him, and his subsequent high achievement.

However, he has been actively involved in disability groups, including serving on the American Foundation for the Blind’s board of trustees for nine years. The board has released a statement saying that once again, Paterson is “making history.”

“Paterson has shown the world that people with vision loss can lead full and independent lives—running marathons, being a great father and husband, and becoming a major political leader,” says Carl R. Augusto, the president and CEO of the foundation.

But the media’s depiction of Paterson’s “independence"—he also doesn’t use a cane or a guide dog—has struck a nerve with at least one blogger, who writes:

I'm always perplexed by these articles that talk about how "independent" someone is because they don't use a mobility aid. I remember reading an article about one woman who said her doctor suggested a cane, but she wanted to be more independent. Her solution? Make sure a coworker was around to yell to her when she was approaching the top of the stairs. So, if we want to *look* independent (as opposed to *being* independent), maybe we're going about it all wrong. Maybe it's like a status symbol if we can have all of these people around to guide us so we don't have to rely on one of those canes or dogs. I see the same thing in articles about braille--someone is "independent" because they spend hours and hours memorizing stuff rather than reading braille. Is our cultural fear of blindness so great that it shapes our perceptions of what constitutes independence?

UPDATE: The New York Times is reporting that Paterson is not the nation’s first blind governor. That honor goes to Bob Cowley Riley, who was governor of Arkansas for 11 days in 1975. Riley, a Marine, lost his sight due to injuries he received in World War II.

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.